The new international skirmish with North Korea over the Seth Rogen/James Franco movie “The Interview” is one that you could see coming considering North Korea isn’t going to get the dark comedy we do here in America. Just how dark has America become in order to get people to laugh when going to see movies? Based on most comedies today, it’s far more dirty and dark than we’ve ever been, even if some of it has a lot of insight into the human condition. Much of it probably springs from the “Saturday Night Live” comedic sensibility that digs deep into the human condition and doesn’t always look pretty.
It’s a whole different kettle of worms when you do a movie about threatening to kill an international dictator. I wrote recently about this subject and how the production team behind “The Interview” probably underestimated how much other countries understand our sense of humor. The question is whether any of them really do and if it’s only the leaders pretending to not be amused.
Past Satiric Movie Depictions of Dictators
According to rumor, Adolf Hitler supposedly liked the satiric portrayal done by Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.” However, apparently Chaplin didn’t get word on what Hitler thought of it, even if Chaplin was told the dictator had screened it in Germany. You have to wonder how devastating it must have been to learn that the most nefarious dictator in world history ended up loving your performance when it was intended as devastating satire.
It just goes to show how naïve even dictators were to satire in those days. Also, Chaplin seemed to be miles ahead on satirically lampooning an international leader before anyone else dared. This isn’t to say that Hitler wasn’t parodied to the hilt here in America once World War II was underway. One of the greatest was from Disney and the Donald Duck short “Der Fuehrer’s Face” that also prompted a catchy song to complement it.
Since then, movies have moved on to depicting fictional dictators in the mold of Hitler, or at least ones that fit the mold of ones seen in South America or Asia. Almost every international espionage thriller has increasingly played up those stereotypes, including depictions that look hilarious today. That’s because Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil usurped the James Bond evil dictator persona to a point where no serious movie about a fictional dictator could ever be done again.
But as we head into dark satire about dictators and those who promote terror, are the people overseas on the same wavelength as we are, or are they as offended as the real dictators are?
Understanding Satire in North Korea and Beyond
When the movie “Team America: World Police” came out in 2004, the depiction of Kim Jong-Il as a charming marionette figure was perhaps the closest anyone’s come recently to doing what Chaplin did in “The Great Dictator.” This depiction never had any response from Kim Jong-Il, though rumors circulated then he had a great sense of humor and love for American movies. You can’t be overly offended by a good-natured marionette figure of yourself, even if it was tearing him down to size for those more astute.
The people in North Korea who happened to see “Team America: World Police” might have found it hilarious. It’s still a mystery how well satire goes over in countries still overrun with dictators and whether they’ve developed enough of a sophisticated sense of humor to get it all. We almost have to imagine they do, and a lot of it is probably smuggled in as much as prurient content here in America used to be decades ago.
We also have to wonder if Kim Jong-Un finds the concept of “The Interview” funny behind the scenes, and the “act of war” declaration over the film is more of a public front to give us a think about what we’re doing. It’s a little surreal to think of Seth Rogen and James Franco being the impetus behind starting a war with North Korea. Then again, we probably underestimate how much movies are shaping the view of us in other countries.
If Europe understands where we’re going, the countries still under totalitarian rule have to laugh behind closed doors and not publicly. And as with most dictators, they probably cackle at our satiric takes one minute, then turn deadly serious about it the next. It’s almost as if satire has finally gone over the line into reality.